To the editor:
We wish to salute the Amesbury Middle School fifth-grade teachers and students on their attentiveness and interest as they toured our special historic space the week of June 17-20.
It was obvious that many of them had done some advance prep as evidenced by the many questions fielded by the docents (Pat Grenier, Nan Becker, Bob Schledwicz, Hope Cole, Linda Young, Rosemary Rhodie and myself.)
This was the first year we listed our extensive JGW Educational Curriculum on our website (whittierhome.org). The Education Script was developed as a result of the receipt of an Institute of Library Science Grant several years ago. The aim of the grant was to focus attention on a true hero and leader of the anti-abolition movement, poet and humanitarian John Greenleaf Whittier. His efforts along with mentor William Lloyd Garrison, Newburyport, spurred the cause to end slavery and inequality. After years of peaceful protests, fiery writings and demonstrations, only the calamitous Civil War would solve the question of slavery. Amesbury was known as a hotbed of abolition, first in so many areas such as the beginning of the anti-slavery movement, the national labor movement and many more.
After the brokenness of the war, Whittier helped heal many of the wounds of battle by reflecting on earlier, more peaceful times, writing his historic and famous winter idyll, “Snowbound.” Indeed, this narrative earned him fame and fortune. However, as years have passed, the epic poem has remained a focal point of American literature, while the Quaker poet who penned it was never known for the heroic life of principle he led, at great cost to his health and economic condition.
We are grateful that our fifth-grade teachers decided to link up our rich local history with their curriculum, bringing local history alive to many young students who will hopefully return in later years to study the abolition movement and Civil Ear as part of their history curriculum. The decision to move “History Days” to an earlier grade level ( from eighth-graders) we believe has been most beneficial to all. Sitting on the floor in the original parlor, hearing about the naughty Whittier parrot, Charlie, understanding the vivid death mask, the picture of thousands of people who came to Whittier’s service in the garden and realizing that nearly 5,000 people passed by his bier that was laid out in this room in 1892. Realizing that a simple farm boy of humble beginnings was inspired by a poem of Robert Burns, to begin writing his own … the colorful stories of far-away lands read by his mother by the fire at the end of the day, his great assimilation of the natural beauty around him and natural curiosity of “local history” inspired many of his poems.
The students walked many of the same paths of our early ancestors and were hopefully enriched with the magic and excitement that comes with reliving the real past and knowing anyone can make a difference, as JGW has. And most importantly, learn from the mistakes of the past.
Our purpose as teachers and keepers of local history is but to inspire the young minds given to our keep, and inspire them to reach their full potential as informed citizens, compassionate neighbors, committed to peace and respect for one another and keepers of the natural beauty that surrounds us.
We hope we have given “voice” to all who have heard Whittier’s story, and note the words of his famous “Maude Muller” poem:
“For of all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest of these; “It might have been!”
Cynthia Costello, President
For the Whittier Home Association